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Missing Ohiopyle rafter ID'ed as Pitt student

| Sunday, July 7, 2013, 11:45 p.m.

A 22-year-old University of Pittsburgh student was spending the day with his longtime girlfriend and her family at Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County when his raft capsized on the Youghiogheny River and he disappeared, according to his aunt.

The search for Robert Vega of Lancaster will resume Monday, but it is now a recovery effort, said Jim Juran, park ranger.

“We have transitioned from a search and rescue to recovery,” Juran said Sunday evening. “We are scaling back.”

Vega was on a commercial whitewater rafting trip when his raft flipped over Saturday afternoon below the falls, Juran said. His PFD, or personal flotation device, slipped off and he was last seen with his foot trapped on the river's bottom at Swimmers Rapids, Juran said.

Two swiftwater rescue teams, park staff and guides from several whitewater rafting companies in Ohiopyle searched the river and banks on Saturday and Sunday. Juran said the effort turned into one of recovery at 4 p.m. Sunday.

The recovery effort will resume at 8 a.m. on Monday, but only park staff and the whitewater guides will participate, Juran said. They will concentrate on a two-mile stretch of the river between Swimmers Rapids and Bruner Run.

Vega's family kept vigil at the park on Sunday, according to his aunt, Jessica Rojas.

Vega has attended the University of Pittsburgh for the past 3½ years, where Rojas said he was a straight A student who was studying law. He is listed on the university's website as having made the dean's list at least twice, in 2011 and this spring.

Rojas said Vega went to the park with his girlfriend, whom she said he met in 10th grade, and her family to go whitewater rafting.

“They were just down there for the day, with his girlfriend and her family,” said Rojas. “Her parents came over to visit them from Lancaster.”

Rojas said park personnel have kept them up to date with the search efforts. She said the family was advised that a helicopter will be used during Monday's search.

Juran said the park extends its condolences to Vega's family.

“We've had hundreds of thousands of people go downriver every year without incident,” Juran said. “This is an unforeseen accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Vega family.”

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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